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Published on October 11th, 2012 | by Jill


Susin Nielsen Gives Us Some Writing Advice

We asked Susin Nielsen, author of Word Nerd, Dear George Clooney Will You Please Marry My Mother and The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen,  about her writing habits.  She gives us some great ideas that we can use in our own writing.  

When you start writing a new book, do you write an outline first?  Do you know what the ending will be?

No, I never write an outline. Because I write for television, which is very formatted and structured (ie many outlines), I allow myself a lot of freedom with my books. I often have an idea re: what the ending will be, but it usually morphs as I go along.

Do you have any tips for keeping writing through a long project like a novel?

That’s a tough one. I really think that being able to keep going, and figure out solutions when you hit roadblocks, simply comes from experience. I have many many half-finished screenplays and stories from my early days as a writer. Malcolm Gladwell said something in “Outliers,” that it takes a person 10,000 hours of doing something to be an expert. I really believe that. And I also believe that even though I’ve probably easily done my 10,000 hours, I do not in any way feel like an expert – it is still, and always will be, really hard work to craft a good story from start to finish.

Do you write biographies of your characters before you start writing a book?

No. Yuck. Isn’t that an awful thing to admit? But I just can’t imagine doing that. I prefer to spend a lot of time thinking about the characters (and I do spend a lot of time thinking about at least the main ones before I start writing), and letting them find themselves and get more and more fleshed out, as I write.

Do you keep a writing schedule?  Do you write a certain amount every day?  At a specific time?

Yes and no. When I have a TV assignment I’m very diligent and stick to deadlines. With the books, I’m slightly more loosey-goosey. I like big windows, so if I’m working on a TV script, I often set aside the novel writing, even if, say, I know I won’t get notes on the TV thing for a couple of days. I like big chunks of time to sink into the book. But when I have those chunks, I will sit down every morning (always mornings – mornings are much, much better for me than any other time of the day) and write for 2 to 4 hours. That sounds short, doesn’t it? I can write on a TV script for longer, but for the novels, I reach my limit much faster.

Great advice from Susin Nielsen that can help any writer!

Ask an Author is a semi-regular feature on O’Deary Library.  If you have a question for an author, leave it in the comments below.  We’ll try to reach the author and get an answer for you.


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About the Author

's favourite books include The Sound and the Fury, every one of the Harry Potter books, The Fault in Our Stars, The Princess Bride, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and A Little Princess. She wrote her first book -- Chestnut Squirrel Stories -- in fourth grade and has gone on to publish a number of books. She also writes for television and the web.

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